In honor of our Power Women issue, Moves Rewind is taking it back to your favorite films and albums that promote the best kind of power there is: girl power. All of these movies and all of this music was created to empower women in some way, whether through the stories they tell or the women that stand behind them. These classics gave women motivation to speak their minds and confidence to be strong in their skin. Check out our picks below to see why ladies really do run the world.
At Last!, Etta James – 1961
Etta’s voice is indicative of how she wanted women to go forth in their work – strong, confident, and passionate. She came onto the Chicago blues scene in the early ’60s when she signed with Chess Records, which had put artists like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Howlin’ Wolf on the map. She was one of very few women succeeding in blues and R&B in the ’60s and her hit from this record “At Last” was just about the soundtrack to any blossoming or seasoned relationship. Etta’s deep, coarse voice is unmistakable and because of that, she encouraged women in music to find something that made them stand out and use it to propel themselves forward, not lessen it for fear of being different.
Patsy Cline Showcase, Patsy Cline – 1961
A wonderfully talented vocalist who lived a very short life, Patsy set the ball rolling for women in country music as a staple in the 1960s Nashville sound. She was one of the first female country music stars to cross over into the pop genre. Yep, that’s waaaaay before T-Swift, my friends. In 1973, Patsy was the first female solo artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Again, a genre dominated by male headliners in the ’60s, Patsy paved the way for women as headline performers in country music with her deeply rich tone and expressive voice. This album helped do that with its two hits on both the the Billboard country and pop charts: “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy.”
I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, Janis Joplin – 1969
Her first solo record after fronting Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joplin broke the “girl singer” mold that existed in folk and pop music throughout the ’60s. Her raw and raspy voice is one of the most recognizable voices in rock ‘n’ roll, a product of how she fused rock and blues when she sang. Her musical style influenced male and female musicians, all the way from Stevie Nicks to Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. Her smile was electric and her love of vintage clothes, wild hairstyles, and bourbon reassured women that you could still be a successful woman even if you enjoyed un-ladylike things. We lost Janis too soon but her spirit lives on.
Tapestry, Carole King – 1971
This record finally brought Carole the success she deserved in the ’70s, but she should have received it in the ’60s when she was writing hits for other artists with Gerry Goffin, like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “The Loco-Motion.” Always behind the scenes on these massive hits, Tapestry showcased King’s talent for songwriting and natural ability to sing with a raw and earnest delivery. She liberated lots of female singers with her imperfections and still does to this day. The album has been listed on the Billboard 200 for over 300 weeks between 1971 and 2011, the longest by a female solo artist. You make the earth move under our feet, Carole, and you always will.
Like a Prayer, Madonna – 1989
The album that solidified Madonna as a pop music icon, this one showcases the ballsy-ness that lay at her foundation as an artist. There wasn’t anything that Madonna was afraid or ashamed to sing about as a woman. She championed female empowerment on tracks like “Express Yourself.” She also continued to make racy, entertaining music videos for lots of tracks on this record, a signature of Madonna’s all throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s when music videos were as important as the track itself. She was fearless in her themes and creativity and still reigns today as the Queen of Pop.
Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette – 1995
Using her broken relationships as ammo to write one of the best female alternative rock albums of all time, Jagged Little Pill was a bible for ladies in the ’90s and remains one today. It’s first single “You Oughta Know” was a glimpse into the angst and raw truth Alanis put into her songs, something of which a lot of new-age female rockers hadn’t done in the ’90s. A bit post-grunge and a little pop rock added up to an alt rock album that paved the way for all sorts of female artists from all genres, from Avril Lavigne to Shakira to Katy Perry. This record put Alanis on the map and dubbed her the youngest artist to ever win the “Album of the Year” Grammy until Taylor Swift ended her reign when she won the award in 2010 for Fearless.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill – 1998
After a successful run with her hip-hop group, The Fugees, Hill went solo with this debut record which was a hit. Already a female force in the world of ’90s hip hop, which was dominated by men, Hill sang about heartbreak, hardships, and God as heard on hits like “Doo Wop (That Thing),” “Ex-Factor,” and “Everything is Everything. Though she would go on to stir some controversy with her comments about race, Hill has always been someone unafraid to speak her mind. This record is often credited as instrumental in helping hip hop crossover into mainstream and warranted Hill the 1999 cover of TIME, making her the first hip-hop artist to ever grace the cover of the magazine.
Born This Way, Lady Gaga – 2011
When GaGa came onto the scene in the mid-2000s, she really set a new precedent for women in pop. Born This Way was her second studio album, but it was this album that gave us the title track of the same name, which became an anthem among feminists, the LGBT community and lots of others. GaGa was proud of her weirdness and her individuality, in the way Madonna embraced these qualities back in the ’80s. There is nothing off limits for GaGa. On this record she sings about religion, feminism, sexuality, freedom, and individualism and her videos explored the same themes. She’s a chameleon and style icon who keeps pushing boundaries in all aspects of entertainment. Keep on inspiring, GaGa, and please keep creating.
21, Adele – 2011
One of the greatest vocalists to emerge out of the last decade, Adele is incomparable. On this record, she took her heartbreak and turned it into some of the most beautiful music that was, we guarantee you, the soundtrack to any woman’s breakup over the five years. Known for naming her albums after that particular age in her life, 21 gave us “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You,” which made her the first female British solo singer in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to have two number ones from the same album. Adele remained humble in her success, trying to keep a low profile and crafting simple tours backed by only a band, no theatrics. She was always relatable and never lost herself in order to further her career.
Lemonade, Beyonce – 2016
Because how can we leave off Queen Bey? She consistently pushes the boundaries for female artists in any genre, initially releasing this particular album as a visual record. Bey puts her marriage center-stage here and calls out the only person in this world who may be more famous than she is, her husband Jay-Z. Her marriage to the hip-hop legend has always been squeaky clean and then she drops this bomb in which she hints at his infidelity. By doing this, Beyonce reassures us ladies that we’ve got to be strong in these situations and stick up for ourselves. She sings of the importance of family, our roots, and love. And she confirms that it is indeed OK to keep hot sauce in our purses when needed. The definition of fierce, Beyonce has given us ladies SO many anthems and Lemonade follows suit. So let me here you, I saaaaid “Come on, ladies, now let’s get in formation.” SLAY. ALL. DAY.
The Sound of Music – 1965
We chose this one because of its protagonist Maria, played by Julie Andrews, a free spirited young Austrian studying to become a nun in Salzberg. Maria’s passion for life, her enthusiasm, her courageousness – these are all characteristics women should never hide and never lessen. There were times in this film, set in the 1930s, when Maria could have given in. She could have changed herself in order to appease others, but she refused. And in doing that, the von Trapp family, whom she tends to as governess to the seven children, learns from her. She even wins the heart of Captain von Trapp, an outwardly rigid but inwardly kind-hearted retired Austrian naval officer, who also learns from Maria how important it is to never mask who you are and do what you love.
Steel Magnolias - 1989
Get the tissues cause you pretty much don’t have a soul if you’re eyes are dry by the time this one’s over. Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, and Dolly Parton play a close group of friends in a small Louisiana town. The story follows them as they deal with the ups and down of their own families, patricianly a young Julia Roberts who plays Sally Field’s daughter suffering from diabetes. The film is the epitome of what it means to have strong female friendships – how the women we surround ourselves with, no matter how late in life, form a foundation that can pick us up when we’re weak, and bring us back to life when we see the darkest days. A hell of a cast to say the least. It’s almost like these ladies aren’t even acting.
Thelma and Louise – 1991
There’s no way we could leave this one off the list. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis star as two women on the run from Oklahoma to Mexico after killing a man who tries to rape one of them. Say what you want that the film’s a bit violent and focuses too much on revenge to be categorized as a feminist flick, but at the end of the day, these two women trek fearlessly into the unknown in hopes of protecting themselves. They refused to be victims, a bold and brave move. Because of that, the film set a precedent in the early ’90s for gutsy female characters on the big screen.
A League of Their Own – 1992
The movie that iconized the saying “There’s no crying in baseball,” this American comedy-drama tells the fictionalized account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Set in the 1940s, Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell are a few of the talented actresses who play the strong-minded, proudly athletic ladies of the first all-female professional baseball league, a team that was created while World War II threatened the continuance of the MLB. Tom Hanks plays the half-hearted coach who slowly but surely wants his team of go-getters to succeed, and (spoiler alert) he cleans himself up because of them. The women prove fearless on the field and, in the end, earn themselves a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. A film that proved women can dominate on and off the field, this is one of the best.
The First Wives Club – 1996
Three divorced women seeking revenge on their ex-husbands. Need we say more? Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton star as wives who are all dealing with husbands that left them for younger women. Midler, Hawn and Keaton each play very different women, so in other words, every woman can easily relate to at least one of them. Instead of wallowing in self-pity they ban together, again reinforcing the power of female friendships. And instead of carrying out immature payback on their wealthy husbands, they push them into into funding the establishment of a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding abused women. Yep, essentially the most epic girl power payback there is. The last scene of the film of the three women singing “You Don’t Own Me” down the street will forever be a wonderfully inspiring anthem for independent women.
Double Jeopardy – 1999
This film is easily one of the most underrated movies with the most badass female lead. Ashley Judd plays a woman who slips away from her parole officer after being framed for the murder of her husband. She suspects her husband is still alive after being imprisoned for six years for a crime she didn’t commit, decides to find him and get back her son. With the exception of her parole officer who in time believes she is innocent, Judd is on her own in tracking down her husband. She outwits anyone that gets in her way and finds her husband living another life down in New Orleans. He tries to kill her again by burying her alive in a coffin, but being the ultimate fearless mother who’s propelled by the thought of seeing her son again, she escapes. This is one of those films in which the female lead so beautifully outsmarts the male lead. It’s a reminder that women should trust their instincts and own their strength.
Erin Brocavich – 2000
Known for that million-dollar smile, this film proved Julia Roberts was an actress who knew how to pick her roles wisely. Based off a true story, Roberts impeccably plays Brockavich, an unemployed single mother who becomes a legal assistant that almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply. Roberts won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama. The film hits home on all levels, depicting the hardships women face in a profession dominated by men while trying to take care of her family. Roberts’ passion for the role and respect for the real Brocavich, who succeeded in her work because she refused to back down even despite personal and professional hardships, was motivation for women everywhere to go get ‘em at work.
North Country – 2005
A hugely important film that should not be forgotten about. This is a fictionalized account of the first major successful sexual harassment case in the United States — Jenson vs. Eveleth Taconite Co, in which a woman who endured a range of abuse while working as a miner in Minnesota filed and won the landmark 1984 lawsuit. Based off the 2002 book Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler, the story follows a female miner, played achingly well by Charlize Theron, who takes a job at a Minnesota iron mine in the late ’70s. She and other female miners endured harassment from male co-workers, ranging from verbal taunts to pornographic graffiti and worse for years. Theron’s character, based off the real-life Lois Jenson, eventually files suit and wins. This movie is tough to watch in parts, but it’s a small reminder again about what women have endured and continue to endure in industries dominated by men. And it’s a call to those who’ve experienced similar encounters to speak up.
The Help – 2011
This film showed the world Viola Davis was an absolute force on the big screen before she solidified that with her Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama series, making her the first black actress to ever win the award. It also earned Octavia Spencer a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. But the film itself sheds light on the women, specifically African American maids, who lay at the heart of households during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Davis and Spencer play the maids of affluent white households, on their feet sun up until sundown, working tirelessly to keep everyone happy. An aspiring author (played by Emma Stone) befriends them and decides to write a book detailing the African American maids’ point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis. There are many women-driven storylines here with the maids, the female journalist and the wives of the wealthy households but through all of them there is a common threat: strength. They are all strong females who learn from and depend on one another in order to overcome hardships and unhappiness.
Trainwreck – 2015
We included this one on here for a few reasons: 1) Amy Schumer and 2) well, Amy Schumer. A small-time TV comic who catapulted herself into Hollywood’s most respected comedians (a feat for female comedians everywhere), Schumer wrote and starred in his box-office-hit comedy about a commitment-phobic career woman who may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy. It was refreshing to have a female protagonist in a Judd Apatow film, as his movies rarely give the female characters center stage. Proud of her body and vocal about a woman’s prerogative to do what she wants with it, Schumer brought to light what confidence looks like both on and off the big screen. This movie was by no means life-changing or Academy Award caliper acting, but Schumer jolted the world with her snarky, witty and intelligent humor and she’s paving the way for young female comedians to do the same.